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Planning for Gold

At business plan competitions across the country, judges sift through talented teams of presenters to find out who deserves the precious prizes--cash, services and VC exposure. Could your startup be the next to strike it rich?

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This story appears in the November 2004 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

There's an air of optimism about a plan . Teams bustle along, rehearsing their business plan presentations before delivering them to illustrious judges who not only have , but are also often connected to large VC firms. Permeating every conversation is a we-can-do-it attitude. can range from the highly technical biomedical industry to the more ethereal creative arts arena. Yes, the competition part of it can be nerve-wracking, and the judges are not what one would call an easy audience. Still, it's a great opportunity to win cash and prizes for your business and get pitch time in front of actual VCs--and it's also a huge learning experience from start to finish. It may very well be in the drinking water at a business plan competition, but the general attitude is this: No matter what happens, we'll build a business.

The good news is that these hotbeds of entrepreneurial inspiration are taking place at more venues across the country (and the world, in fact). A large percentage of business plan competitions are associated with university MBA programs, note experts, but a fair number are also produced by communities, open to anyone in the local area or to businesses of a certain type to encourage economic growth. "There are definitely more open competitions," says Mark Cannice, director of the University of (USF) Program. "As the word spreads about allowing [people] the opportunity to develop a complete business concept and offer it to professional investors and executives, I think that experience has been so powerful and fruitful for so many...I think the demand for most universities to have [competitions] seems to be increasing as well."

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